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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                       349
veered in pairs, but in close formation, to intercept the
Germans. Sight, hearing and mind were concentrated
to the limit. Alexei saw nothing but the enemy planes
that were growing rapidly before his eyes; in his ears
there was nothing but the crackling and buzzing of the
ear-phones in which he was to hear the next command.
But instead of that command he very distinctly heard an
excited voice cry in German:
"Achtung! Achtung! La-fiinf! Achtung!"
It must have been the German ground observer warning
his planes of danger.
As was its custom, the famous German aircraft divi-
sion had carefully covered the battle-field with a network
of markers and ground observers who, furnished with
radio transmitters, had been parachuted the previous
night in the anticipated area of air battles.
Then, less distinctly, came another voice, hoarse and
angry, shouting in German:
"Donnerwetter! Links! La-fiinf! Links! La-funf!"
In addition to vexation, there was a note of alarm in
that voice.
"Richthofen, you are not afraid of our Xavochkins',
are you?" muttered Meresyev grimly, watching the
approaching enemy formation and feeling a thrill of ela-
tion shoot through his tense body.
The enemy could be seen distinctly now. They were
attacking planes, Fokke-Wolf-190's, powerful, swift
machines which had just been put into commission.
They outnumbered Fedotov's group two to one. They
flew in that strict formation that distinguished the units
of the Richthofen Division, in pairs, in step-ladder fashion,
in such a way that each pair protected the rear of the
pair in front. Taking advantage of his higher altitude,
Fedotov attacked the enemy. Alexei had already chosen
his target and, while not losing sight of the rest, headed
for it, trying to keep it in his sight. But somebody fore-
stalled Fedotov. A group of "Yaks" swept in from
the other side and swiftly attacked the Germans from
above. The blow was so successful that it at once broke
up the enemy formation. Confusion reigned in the air.
Both sides broke up into fighting twos and fours. The
fighter planes strove to intercept the enemy with